Monday, October 1, 2012

Eating in Chiang Mai

Nut and I have been patiently waiting for the end of the rainy season. We've done our our first big ride but it's still fairly warm and muggy outdoors, about 85-90 degrees F in the afternoon, so we've been spending those afternoons in our cool apartment only sneaking out around midday for lunch. Then towards evening after the sun is past its peak we'll go out and grab some supper.

Note 10-04-12: A friend asked in the comments section of this blog if we eat every meal out. Well yes, almost. But we generally eat breakfast at home: fresh fruit mostly and sometimes eggs or oatmeal. Shown is one recent breakfast. Fruited yogurt with muesli, oatmeal, juice and cocoa, or in my case, tea. There is mango, banana, long kong, and apple slices on the plate.

Now, back to the topic at hand. We've tried a few new restaurants lately and have discovered some great eating right in our neighborhood. One such place is on the ground floor of our building. And then too, we have a few special restaurants we discovered last year.  This article is about them and some Thai dishes we seem to order again and again.

Lately I've taken to ordering tom sap (ต้มแซ่บ) everywhere. This is a spicy, highly seasoned soup popular in northern Thailand (Issan) based on pork or chicken, less frequently beef, that's often served in a ceramic pot on a charcoal brazier placed right on the table. Many restaurants here in Chiang Mai serve it and each offering is slightly different.

We dip the fragrant soup directly out of the pot with big spoons. One of the seasonings is chilis of course, which give it a bite, and horapha (โหระพา) or Thai sweet basil, one of my favorite condiments. Add some onion, some lemon grass, a slug of nam pla (fish sauce) and you've got a lovely soup. In the photo you can see some of the horapha and chunks of pork in the pot as well as fresh green horapha and cabbage at the right. Thais eat raw seasonings and vegetables, usually cabbage or cucumbers, as an accompaniment to the main course.

Grilled tilapia, tom sap on the brazier, pickled pork sausage at Delicious Restaurant
This little place is an easily missed family operated shop aptly named Delicious Restaurant (เลิศรส) (Lert-rode) featuring northern Thai food, Issan food. Nut discovered it last year when we were staying at the Nice Apartments across the lane on Rachadamnoen Soi 1 near Tha Phae Gate. (N18.78881, E98.99238). One of  its specialties that I order literally every time we go there is grilled fish. These are farmed fish, as are 99% of all the fish eaten in Thailand, and are a type of tilapia with firm white meat and a reddish skin. They're called pla tab-tim (ทับทิม), literally pomegranate fish, and are stuffed with lemon grass and rolled in salt before going on the charcoal.  An average meal for two will set you back about $6 at Delicious Restaurant. The family knows us now as regulars — we are always greeted exuberantly and with wide smiles when we ride up on the bike.

Grilling pla tab-tim at Delicious Restaurant
There's another small restaurant a few yards up the street from our place named Som Tam Udon. We can walk there in minutes. (N18.80542, E98.98321) Their specialty is som tam (ส้มตำ), the green papaya salad that IMHO is justifiably famous all over Thailand. They also serve grilled chicken, fish and pork ribs and of course, tom sap.

Som tam with seafood (ส้มตำ ทะเล)

Tom sap (ต้มแซ่บ)
Another spot we love when we want to eat western-style food is The Duke's on the Chiangmai-Lamphun Road near the Iron Bridge. (N18.78516 E99.00501)

Duke's is more expensive than most of the Thai restaurants around but the service is great and the food fantastic yet cheap by stateside standards. (Here is Duke's Facebook page.) They have great looking burgers and steaks (I've not had any as yet), BBQ ribs to die for, a good if not perfect Caesar salad, along with other western dishes: we've had scrumptious carrot cake, excellent pizza, very hard to find in Thailand, and a favorite of mine, chili con carne ($3 bowl). The ribs are as good as Sean up at the Fritz Creek Store turns out. The meal below cost less than $15 USD for two.

Chile con carne, foccacia, pork steak in pepper sauce, warm spinach salad
Nut almost always has pork steak in pepper sauce at Duke's. I tell her to try some other things but she loves these little steaks and always gives the fried onion rings to me. Duke's pizza is the best I've had in Thailand by far. Most Thai pizza is unimaginative to the point that the tomato sauce used is a closer relative to catsup than the fine topping I'm used to from Finn's and Fat Rack in Homer. Nut likes Hawaiian-style pizza so that's what's shown here although many other kinds are available. This one, a medium size, cost about $10. As I said, Duke's ain't cheap but a similar pizza would cost at least three times that amount in Homer, Alaska.

Duke's medium pizza, warm spinach salad, shrimp cocktail
Another top spot for us is Hua Pla Mo Phi (หัวปลาหม้อไฟ) over in the Mee Chok neighborhood. They used to be in Chiang Mai Land but moved this December (2015) to a new and bigger place right on Rte 1001 near the Mee Chok Shopping Mall. The new location is at N18.82186° E99.01212°. Hua Pla means fish head and that's the specialty of this place, fish head soup. Everything we've had there has been excellent. I should add here that if not for Nut most of the places we frequent would probably never have discovered if I were operating alone. Her knowledge of Thai food is extensive and her taste impeccable. She read about this place in a magazine article. We've been eating there regularly ever since. (Note: Originally I had the name translated as Hua Pla Mor Phi but learned it is actually Hua Pla Mo Phi. If you are searching for it online, try both spellings as well as the Thai version.)

Dinner for two at Hua Pla Mo Phi
The dinner shown above, spicy fish head soup, crab cakes, stir fried morning glory with crispy pork, and a side of rice cost about $12. Another of their items that I almost always order is the fruit salad basket. Apples, melon, and grapes in a sweet dressing, topped with deep fried shrimp in an edible taro basket. Yummers!

Mixed fruit salad - Hua Pla Mo Phi

No discussion of favorite Chiang Mai restaurants would be complete without including Silomjoy. This is yet another family owned and operated restaurant serving breakfast and lunch right in front of the Tha Phae Gate on Rachadamnoen Road. Many farangs eat there because they serve an excellent western style breakfast but there's a full menu of Thai dishes as well. And one of the owners, Waou (แวว), creates the coolest latte art I've seen anywhere. Even on warm days when I would ordinarily prefer an iced coffee or latte, I'll order a latte from Waou just to see what she will come up with as decoration.

With Waou at Silomjoy restaurant
There are a few more places we like but I guess I can save them for another day. We're off to lunch.